Police break up Sandon Point protest

Friday, September 17, 2010

Police broke up a blockade by several Aboriginal and environmental activists at Sandon Point on September 14 after they tried to stop land clearing by the Stockland property group.

Sandon Point, on the NSW south coast, has cultural significance for local Aboriginal people. It is home to a number of endangered and threatened species, which activists say are threatened by the planned development.

The controversial development has been delayed for more than 10 years by legal appeals and an ongoing community picket. NSW Premier Kristina Keneally approved all remaining stages of the six-stage development application as one of her final acts as planning minister in November 2009.

Jill Walker, a member of the community picket, condemned the relationship between Stockland and the state ALP government. Walker told Green Left Weekly on September 16: “The whole thing is completely wrong.”

Since mid-2008, Stockland has maintained a policy of not making political donations. But between 1999 and mid-2008, Stockland donated $430,908 to the state and federal branches of the Labor and Liberal parties, says the Australian Electoral Commission.

The development was approved using Part 3A of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. The act allows developers to do their own studies without independent assessment by government agencies.

The minister ignored environment department objections and activists say the decision dismissed threatened species, wildlife protection acts and best floodplain practice in favour of the developer's own studies.

Walker said: “They’ve killed wildlife and habitats, which is against the National Parks and Wildlife Act ... there’s a contradiction in the law [between the NPW Act and Part 3A].” Stockland has not allowed for climate change issues on the site, which is on a low-lying floodplain where four creeks converge.

Three metres of fill will be added to raise the land above flood levels but no account has been taken of downstream impacts — or of rising sea levels predicted by a Wollongong City Council Coastal study released earlier this year.

Stockland started clearing land on September 10. Activists condemned the decision to begin bulldozing in spring as unnecessarily threatening nesting species.

Several activists locked themselves to fences or trees and held up clearing on the site for 24 hours. Walker said: “It was a brave attempt... the thing is, we weren’t able to get lawyers — Stockland moved so fast, and it was too late to stop them.”

On September 16, Aboriginal activist with the Sandon Point Tent Embassy Roy “Dootch” Kennedy filed an injunction in the Land and Environment Court to stop the development.

Kennedy said on September 17: “I am appalled at the environmental consequences arising from the clearing, particularly along the creek lines where reed beds and trees have been removed.

“Stockland’s method of scooping up and turning over soil containing artifacts and then dumping it into trenches is for the purpose of removing all traces of the existence of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage from Sandon Point ... it must and will be stopped.”

The case for the injunction was to be heard on September 20.

[For more information on the campaign, call Jill on 4268 6100 or email jillwalker@westnet.com.au .]